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The 8 Dumbest Ideas for Cars (& Trucks) Ever (& Why)

Updated June 16, 2016

There are times you look at a car or truck and wonder “WTF?” So do we. So we looked into the top eight “WTF” cars and trucks and here’s what we learned:

 

Lincoln Blackwood

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The stainless steel-lined plastic bed, with its carpeted floor, was not conducive to carrying much more than bags of groceries.

Who would build a pickup truck without a bed? Lincoln! Emboldened by its success with the Navigator SUV,  Lincoln created the $52,500 Blackwood ($70K in today’s money) and clearly overshot the market.

The only option available was a Navi system with a 5″ color screen. Everything else had been determined by the factory:  rear wheel drive only, SuperCrew cab configuration, with the exterior and interior in black only. Buyers could drive across the street to the Cadillac dealer and outfit their truck with a far greater range of colors and options.

The truck bed was built as a trunk, with a power tonneau and plush carpeting. The box was manufactured from plastic composites but lined with stainless steel, severely limited the utility of the bed. Any utility that you would derive from owning a truck was negated by the way that Lincoln outfitted the bed.

Lincoln had originally projected annual sales of 18,000 units, but announced it was dropping the Blackwood before the 2002 model year was over, with only 3,356 Blackwoods built over 15 months of production. For 2006 – 2008 Lincoln took another shot at this segment with the Mark LT with only slightly better success.

Cadilllac Cimmaron

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It was hard for consumers to accept a small Cadillac at nearly twice the price of a nearly identical Chevy.

The Chrysler K car, the extended version of the Omni and Reliant, served as the underpinning for the Dodge Arias and Plymouth Reliant – cars that seemed to be the but of every comedian’s car joke. Lucky for the equally dreary GM J car, as it was about exciting and poorly-built. The package was as simple as they come: transverse engine driving the front wheels, beam axle in the rear, with a unitized body construction.

Despite being instructed by senior management that Cadillac did not have to develop a J car model, the division proceeded anyway with a model they named Cimarron. which was introduced on May 21, 1981.  The GM division that just a few years earlier sold massive 500 CID V8s was now selling a car with a inline-four engine (the first four-cylinder Cadillac since 1914). The Cimarron was so loaded its base price was US$12,131 ( equal to $31,469 today), nearly double the Cavalier, J2000 and other J car models.

Buyers rejected the Cimarron, recognizing it as a re-badged version of other, less prestigious, J cars.  The Cimarron was discontinued after 1988 with a final year production of 6,454 units, and a total of 132,499 units over its seven years on the market.
Chrysler TC by Maserati

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Chrysler invested millions in Maserati and ended up with a clone of its existing car.

In 1979 Chrysler was up against the ropes. The Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, rushed into production to replace the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant were lemons of the highest order. Recalls and warranty repairs nearly bankrupt the company and only a loan guarantee from the US Government saved Chrysler.

The process of building the company back up took many years, first with very basic cars and then into more specialty vehicles. By 1989 Chrysler wanted something exotic to draw customers through the doors.

In an odd move, Maserati was contracted to built a two-seat convertible in Italy on behalf of Chrysler. Neither company had much of an image at the time and neither was viewed as being particularly technically adept.  This new car, named the TC, used the Dodge Daytona platform and initially two undistinguished engines. Of the 7300 car build over three years, 501 of them were constructed with Maserati’s own engine, built on a Chrysler 2.2 liter cylinder block, with Maserati head and tuning which was coupled to a German Getrag 5-speed transaxle.

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The far-too-similar-looking LeBaron GTS – a TC for the budget conscious.

As with the other cars we’ve looked at, actual sales fell well short of projections, Chrysler believing they could sell 10,000 TCs a year. Ultimately, it was done in by a lack of color choices, mediocre performance, high price ($65,000 in today’s money), and a remarkable exterior similarity to the LeBaron GTC that cost just a fraction of what its Italian cousin did.

Corvair

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Front and rear subframes being installed in the Corvair unibody.

This is a story of X, Y, and Z, except with start with the Z and work backwards. The Z platform was GM’s designation for the Corvair, which was to be Chevrolet’s economy-class fighter. It was loaded with new (or new to GM) technologies that drove development costs through the roof: GM’s first unibody, GM’s first independent rear suspension (which wouldn’t be adopted for the Corvette until 1963), air-cooled flat six engine (first GM air-cooled engine since 1923). Literally millions and millions of dollars went into the development of the Corvair.

Meanwhile, across town, Ford had launched the Falcon and built the car as cheaply as possible. Not shoddily, but there was no interest in developing new technology or even new parts, if there were existing parts in the bin that would fit – use it, was the motto.

In 1960, the first year for both cars, Ford sold almost exactly twice as many Falcons as Chevrolet sold Corvairs. And the situation didn’t improve much for the Corvair in 1961.

GM also had a Y platform on which Buick, Olds, and Pontiac had all based their intermediate cars, each with their own choices of engines and drivelines.

Chevrolet quickly understood what it needed to do. The Corvair had not been the mass market economy car that would sell in the millions that they’d hoped. It turned out to be a very expensive niche car.

So Chevrolet did what Ford had done with the Falcon. It developed a shorter version of the existing Y platform and brought it to market within 18 months – then a record – as a direct competitor to the Falcon. Originally called the Chevy II with Nova being the top model, the Chevy II was dropped in 1969 and all models became Novas.

Had GM done as Ford did with the Falcon and developed the Chevy II for the 1960 model year, skipping the Corvair, it would have saved the company millions in development costs, millions in litigation costs, and possibly increased sales in 1960-1961 by a half million units or more.

AMC Pacer

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Many Americans recall the Pacer but forget there was a wagon version as well.

In the 1970s American Motors was a company on the fast road to bankruptcy. Time magazine reported in 1977 that AMC had lost $35 million in the prior two fiscal years. The company wasn’t bleeding cash, it was hemorrhaging money by the dumpster load.

In a desperate move AMC decided to develop a “big” small car for 1975 – as wide as a Cadillac but as short as an import. It would have great visibility and the best ride of any small car. But they knew the styling was controversial, the company’s chairman admitting, even before the car’s debut, that it wasn’t going to be to everyone’s taste.

Part of what AMC was counting on was a Wankel (rotary) engine to differentiate the Pacer from its competitors. Unfortunately two suppliers dropped out and AMC had to hastily adapt the Pacer to accept its straight six cylinder engine – they had no four cylinder, nor the time or money to develop one. The result was a very un-small car fuel mileage of 17 mpg.

Those who’ve driven Pacers have commented positively on the ride and visibility, but with less than 2% market share AMC had enough trouble luring customers into their showroom, much less talking them into buying an oddly-shaped car.

While the Pacer was on the market for 5 years, 2/3 of all sales were in the first two years. The Pacer died quietly at the end of the 1980 model year, and AMC’s management had turned its attention to integrating Renault products into its lineup.

Chevrolet SSR

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Not a really a truck and not really a hot rod, the SSR failed to find its niche.

“Retro is in, right?” GM  management must have thought “Look at the PT Cruiser, the Prowler, heck even the Viper is just an updated Cobra. We need a retromobile, too.” At least that’s how I imagine the conversation. So they dreamed up the Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster), a retractable hardtop convertible pickup truck sold by Chevrolet between 2003 and 2006.

Based on the GMT360 frame it shared with the Chevy TrailBlazer, and intended as a Muscle Truck, the 2003 and 2004 models featured GM’s Vortec 5300 300 hp V8. The 2005 SSR was upgraded with the 390 hp LS2 V8, which carried over with minor mods to 2006, with an output of 400 hp with the manual box.

While first year demand was brisk, the 2004 model sold below expectations with less than 9,000 sales. Part of the reason was its high MSRP of $42,000 ($53,000 in today’s dollars), within spitting range of a Corvette.

Citing almost a full year’s supply of SSRs, in December 2004 GM announced five weeks of layoffs at the Lansing Craft Centre, where the SSR was made. Then in November, 2005, GM announced that it would close the Craft Centre in mid-2006, spelling the end for the SSR. It’s estimated that 24,150 SSRs were produced in total. Of the total production, 24,112 were available for sale to the public.

Despite a heavy marketing push, the expensive SSR never found an audience. Not really a truck and not really a hot rod, it failed to find its niche

Ford Thunderbird

Front Side Psoe Of 2002 Ford Thunderbird In Yellow

Built on the same DEW98 platform as the Lincoln LS, it weighed as much as the four-door sedan.

In the retro-driven days of the 2000s, when Mini, VW, Jag and others had cars rolling around that looked their old cars, Ford bought into the craze with the idea of reviving the Thunderbird, and in the process, perhaps killing it for all times.

The styling was very much of the time – it’s exactly what you would have expected  the designer of the original Taurus to create when modernizing the T-Bird. But it was heavy, very heavy. At 3781 lbs. it was 500 lbs. heavier than the Mustang convertible, and with the Mustang, you got a back seat in the price. It was also under-powered, Ford sliding a tiny 3.9 L V8 with just 280 hp under the hood, combining to move the T-Beast to 60 mph at a leisurely 7 seconds.

What Ford quickly discovered was that there was a limited market for overpriced (MSRP of $46K in today’s dollars), overweight, under-powered, thirsty cars that can only ever seat two people. First year sales account for almost half of all cars sold in its four year production run, totaling just 68, 098 cars.

Yugo GV

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The Yugo GV started life as a derivative of the Fiat 127, which was a decent enough cheap car that worked well on the tight streets and roads of Italy. Fiat then passed the design along to the Yugoslavian state-run auto industry Zastava (this was still under Communism) and they fiddled with the design and created a car called the Koral in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Yugo everywhere else.

Malcolm Bricklin, a man who’d become know for one good idea (first importer of Subaru into the US) and several bad ones (continuing to import Fiats into the US after Fiat bailed, building his own sports car which was a more embarrassing car than the DeLorean) decided that the United States needed a cheap car and started importing the Yugo. 141,651 cars were sold in the US from 1985 to 1992, with the highest annual sales of 48,812 in 1987.

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Some of the last Yugos being built in 1998.

Sales in 1992 had dropped to 1,412 cars, largely due to sanctions related to the Yugoslav wars. Production of all Yugos ceased in 1998. Side note: the Yugo plant, which also manufactured military firearms, was flattened by a NATO airstrike during the conflict in 1999.

Not only was the Yugo the cheapest car sold in America at the time, it was the least powerful, the slowest, and the lightest. So light that in 1989 a strong wind blew a Yugo and its driver over the side of the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan, where it fell 180 feet into the icy waters below.

What didn’t the Yugo work? Do the math: First, you have a car designed by a company that up to that point couldn’t succeed in the US market, then you have it modified and constructed by a totalitarian regime where worker productivity was less than optimum, sold through a group of dealers looking for a quick return on their investment, selling cars to individuals who didn’t have the resources to keep the cars maintained with services as basic as regular oil changes. Yep, it adds up the same way for me.

 

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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